You, the Living

One of my favorite films is a little-known Swedish tragicomedy called Songs From the Second Floor, made by first-time director Roy Andersson in 2000. His ostensible sequel (there’s supposed to be a trilogy) was released in 2007 but still not widely available. This second outing is entitled You, the Living (Swe: “Du Levande”), named after the Goethe quote that opens the film: “Be pleased then, you the living, in your delightfully warmed bed, before Lethe’s ice-cold wave will lick your escaping foot.”

An equally appropriate (albeit less high-brow) quote could’ve come from Woody Allen at the beginning of Annie Hall where Alvy Singer says life is “full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly.” Suffice to say, Andersson’s outlook is bleak and misanthropic to the core. Which makes me think of Michael Haneke, since I also just watched The White Ribbon, the punishingly dark winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year. But if I’m going to sit through such misery, at least Andersson delivers with a mordant wit and deadpan humor that keeps You, the Living afloat.

And unlike Haneke’s, in Andersson’s films if there’s anything unwatchable it is only on-screen for a few minutes. You, the Living is composed of 50 absurdist vignettes, all filmed in one take and almost always using one fixed camera. Like Songs From the Second Floor, the film’s occupants are primarily ashen, lethargic, and mostly anhedonic. Some characters pop up in multiple segments, but often the individual stories have next to no connection to one another. Most of the pieces deal with life’s humiliations in one form or another, although You, the Living is still lighter and more accessible than Songs From the Second Floor. In my favorite storyline, a girl named Anna is approaching despair over her unrequited love affair with a band’s singer. Even her dreams mock her, in what has to be one of the most beautiful film sequences I’ve ever seen:

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B.I.F.F. Day 5

Just got home from the last film of the Bangkok International Film Festival and still bummed I knocked out all the best films straight off, though Everyone Else was minor redemption in my otherwise consistent slide to the bottom. Tonight’s full house screening of Mammoth was no exception, sadly.

mammoth_detMammoth (trailer)

Country: Sweden
Director: Lukas Moodysson
Length: 124 mins
Grade: D-

Synopsis: “Leo and Ellen are a successful New York couple, totally immersed in their work. Leo is the creator of a profitable website [a Kongregate rip-off] and finds himself in the world of easy money and big decisions. Ellen is a dedicated ER surgeon who devotes her long shifts to saving lives. Their eight-year-old daughter Jackie spends most of her time with her Filipino nanny Gloria.When Leo travels to Bangkok, he unwittingly sets off a chain of events that will have dramatic consequences on himself and his family.”

Don’t believe the synopsis. Leo (played by Gael Garcia Bernal) does nothing even vaguely similar to setting off a chain of events. In fact, the film is offensive simply for pretending there are “dramatic consequences” for this family. Because Leo & Ellen (Michelle Williams) aren’t just “successful,” they’re filthy rich to the order of tens of millions of dollars. The most dramatic thing to happen to them, and this is ridiculously underscored in the parting shot even, is that they no longer have a live-in nanny/maid and will have to find a new one. That’s it, and I’m not exaggerating. That’s the big conclusion. Yawn.

The fact is that Mammoth is a wholly pointless and utterly plotless movie that rightfully met with a vigorous chorus of boos at the Berlin International Film Festival. Blues Clues has more of a plot than this movie, at least for 80% of the film. In the last 20% director Moodysson attempts to salvage his movie by punishing all non-white, non-rich, non-Soho-dwelling characters in the film. And does this for no discernible reason. Mammoth is like a less-offensive Babel clone, except unfortunately it’s still a Babel clone, by which I mean to say it’s terrible. Beautifully shot, with excellent actors, on fantastic locations**… all in service of a banal script that’s knee-deep in elephant shit. I almost rated this better than Jamila and the President before realizing that Mammoth is equally pretentious, except here the whole brouhaha is simply to make this point: sometimes life is sad, I mean, like real sad, for us rich folks.

** A Swedish / German / Danish production with Mexican & caucasian leads playing a New York couple with a Filipino nanny, Singaporean business partners, African-American coworkers; shot on location in Soho, Olongapo, Bangkok, and some Phuket-esque beach… wowee, it’s all so multi-cultural, isn’t that cute? How precious, just precious.